Understanding is the basis for a community moving forward together.

Decision making requires the community to expand its understanding of the problems, impacts, and various interests of the community. Communication, conversation, and relationships form the basis for this increased understanding.


How often have you heard someone say, “I communicated the message; I don’t understand why they claim they didn’t know”?

Moment of Oh! Core Principle: Understand Each OtherCommunication is like the game of catch: someone has to send (throw) the message, and someone has to receive (catch) it. If the sender throws the message too fast or too slow, or if the receiver is not ready, communication will likely not occur. While communication planning often focuses on the sending of a message, it is only through verification that we can know with certainty that the communication was successful. Effective communication requires three commitments from the sender:


  1.  Consider the message being sent.
  2. Consider the audience receiving the message.
  3. Determine how message verification will be achieved.

Just as the characteristics of the person catching the ball need to be considered in how you throw a ball (age, ability, and distance from the thrower), the characteristics of the message recipient must affect how a message is sent. When there are several different message recipients—each with his or her own priorities and interests—the only way a message can be successfully received is to employ different message strategies and mechanisms that target different individuals and groups.


While sending e-mails, posting on websites, and making presentations may be effective ways to disseminate information, achieving increased understanding requires listeners to unpack some of what they think and repack their thinking with new information. The best way to foster this active listening is through small-group conversations.

When striving to help the community progress through the stages of engagement, small-group conversations are essential. Personal decisions require us to openly consider what we currently think with as much objectivity as we can muster. Respectful quality conversations are essential for individuals to arrive at the Moment of Oh!

When asked what makes for a great conversation, people often cite respect, listening, safety, mutual caring, and interest in the topic.

When the community meets, these great conversation characteristics must be present.

Quality conversations and effective communication depend on developing strong relationships across stakeholder groups. While we can define different stakeholder groups concerned about a specific situation, relationships are developed individual to individual.

The likelihood of complete agreement across constituencies is small; however, an atmosphere of understanding and respect founded on good relationships helps the community arrive at solutions that benefit the community as a whole.

Do not underestimate the time it takes to have quality conversations and build the strong relationships required for a community to make tough decisions.

Common Missteps:

  • overreliance on pushing information
  • underemphasis on listening by leaders
  • little effort placed on connecting individuals’ interests to the situation/issue

Key Considerations:

  • Do you have enough time to have conversations and build relationships?
  • Do you encourage conversations among community members?
  • Do you take the time to have one-on-one conversation?

— Previous book post: Moment of Oh! – Core Principle: Include Diverse Perspectives

— Next up: Moment of Oh! – Core Principle: Use Experts Wisely

Greg Ranstrom and John Blakinger are authors of the new  book The Moment of Oh! a guide to help communities make tough decisions.